The surreal day George Best and Bobby Charlton lost to Man City… in CRICKET!

Ronaldo, caught De Bruyne, knocked down Haaland. Strange as it may seem, the prospect of Sunday’s 188th Manchester derby taking place on a cricket ground was not so strange for two of the greatest teams United and City have ever produced.

It was July 21, 1968 when the reigning European and English champions swapped their famous red and blue shirts for cricketing whites just three weeks before the start of the new season.

United had won the European Cup at Wembley under Matt Busby two months earlier. City, led by Joe Mercer, edged their neighbors to the Premier League title by two points on the final day.

George Best (L) opened the batting for Man United alongside manager Jack Crompton

Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton managed to score just four points before his exit

Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton managed to score just four points before his exit

Yet there they were, queuing at the other Old Trafford in front of 15,000 fans who were considerably louder than the famous old cricket ground was used to.

The specter of hooliganism loomed in the late 1960s, and what was supposed to be a friendly encounter ended with fans being arrested by police for invading the pitch throwing bottles.

They had paid four shillings each to enter, raising more than £2,000 for the testimony fund of Ken Higgs, the former Lancashire and England cricketer. This was when Manchester’s vibrant social scene brought together players from different sports as well as clubs.

The United team would join City at their favorite meeting place, the Sandpiper in Fallowfield, and welcome them to the Sands nightclub in Stretford.

No one was closer to Mike Summerbee than George Best, who was his best friend and best man. That didn’t stop the United icon from bowling Summerbee for six that day.

“Mike may have been generous there,” said Paddy Crerand, who was playing for United that day. sports mail this week. “These two were as thick as thieves. You wouldn’t believe it coming from different sides of Manchester.

Best was the name of the star of the match, but the former United striker was not a huge cricket fan

Best was the name of the star of the match, but the former United striker was not a huge cricket fan

Best was the star attraction, of course, as he opened up the batting alongside Jack Crompton, the United manager and former goalkeeper who was one of only two players to hit double figures in response City’s total of 168 from 16 overs.

“George was there just to get the crowd in, he was never a real cricketer,” Summerbee recalled.

“It was really a social situation. When the players were off the football field, there were good relations. We socialized before the game, it didn’t matter after – or in the middle of the pitch.

Indeed, there’s a nice photo of the two men joking that Summerbee turned out in a pair of black socks.

Best wasn’t quite the novice some might think. Former City and United winger Peter Barnes has fond memories of playing cricket with him on the street off Aycliffe Avenue, Chorlton, where the Northern Irishman lived in digs with his landlady Ms Fullaway.

As incredible as it may seem compared to today’s football stars, Barnes and his friends knocked on the door of the terraced house on their way home from school when they were 10 or 11 years old.

“Yes, if his yellow Lotus was parked outside,” he said. “Usually it was football, but sometimes we would get the cricket bat out. George had a natural eye for the ball. He would smash it over the neighbours’ fence and come inside laughing.

Best made nine before being caught by Francis Lee bowling from Neil Young as United were all out for 79 after 28 overs, well short of their target. Lee was an accomplished cricketer who had played in the Lancashire League. He had the best score with 36 before being caught by Wilf McGuinness bowling from Bobby Charlton.

The scoreboard shows how many icons from both clubs were involved in the single game

The scoreboard shows how many icons from both clubs were involved in the single game

City physio Peter Blakey was not far behind, not out on 32, and Nobby Stiles beat Colin Bell for 15. Summerbee, Derek Jeffries and Alan Oakes were all practical players.

United lacked in comparison. They had David Sadler and David Herd, who played club cricket for Timperley this summer, but more Irish and Scots were certainly not an advantage.

Glasgow, Crerand’s home town, was the kind of place where one might have needed a cricket bat but not a ball. Still, the Scottish midfielder managed to score five.

‘Have I got? Holy shit!’ says Crerand. ‘I was useless. It was probably my first time holding a bat. We never played cricket in Glasgow, even at school. Cricket was an English game. It’s a miracle in itself that we scored 79.

“There was great camaraderie between the two clubs, and I’m not sure it’s like that today. You’d have a hell of a crowd if they played cricket now, though. Haaland’s size, you’d run off the road if he came bowling!

Neither club had time to prepare for the match. “Directly, no practice, that was it,” laughs United goalkeeper Alex Stepney, who describes himself as “a boy from Surrey and a bit of a spin thrower”.

“It was a day and a change from jogging around a training ground,” adds City defender Tony Book, who happened to be a batsman for Sale this summer.

Sunday's Manchester derby will take place on the football pitch and will see two in-form teams in action

Sunday’s Manchester derby will take place on the football pitch and will see two in-form teams in action

Sometimes Lancashire cricketers would join City in training. Tommy Booth recalls suffering during fitness sessions at Wythenshawe Park on a Monday morning that were so grueling even the footballers stopped going out on a Sunday night.

Booth was one of the latest additions to the official roster along with Jeffries, Blakey and Joe Corrigan. “It was only the first or second time I had a bat, and I also had a bowl,” he said.

“I thought I was fast, but the batsmen had to go down the wicket to hit it. When Mike Summerbee first came to the bowling alley, he actually threw it. He said, “That’s how I play.” The cheater con! It was very friendly.

Less in the stands where the atmosphere worsened as the afternoon progressed.

City fans are still blaming United supporters for invading the pitch, saying they had to take shelter under the benches at Warwick Road End as a barrage of bottles rained down. Police arrested a number of supporters and five were charged with carrying offensive weapons, assaulting police officers and disturbing public order.

And so ended any idea of ​​United playing City cricket again – although Lancashire did make a few appearances in the spotlight at Old Trafford football ground in the early 80s in the ill-fated Lambert & Butler Cup, until everyone realizes that two short limits wouldn’t work.

“It was like that,” Stepney says. “So much happened in the 60s and 70s, and the crowd issues started to get worse around that time. I’m glad things are going much better.

About James K. Bonnette

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